Circus has come a long way from the days of lion tamers, big tops and clowns with scary faces and big shoes. There’s no less entertainment today in ‘circus’ acts, but it tends to come either from embracing the extraordinary (juggling with chainsaws?) or from pushing acrobatics to the limits of the art – which in many cases takes it into the territory of dance, especially street dance.
With the Groupe Acrobatique de Tanger, acrobatics is obviously their thing – but you probably won’t have seen tumbling quite like this before. The show brings together 15 performers for a whirlwind of traditional and modern floor acrobatics, dance, and breakdancing, with a touch of taekwondo and freestyle football too. It’s “an otherworldly collection of acrobatic feats, figures, colours, music, sketches, headspins, and choreography [that] explode in a colourful visual world”; so says the promo from The Arts Center at NYUAD, where the group’s show Fiq! (‘wake up!’)s performing for just three shows on 28, 29 and 30 April.
The absence of conventional clownplay doesn’t mean there’s no humour; the Groupe’s performances typically have a warmth and jollity that is engaging and attractive. What you do get is a group of supremely talented performers, brilliant tumblers and specialist acts, feats of balance, strength and dexterity that also involves a hundred coke bottle crates, a human trampoline, one acrobatic motorbike, and a few footballs (the performers come from various acrobatic styling – traditional and modern tumbling, modern and street dance, even martial arts and foot-freestyle). The pace and the choreography are breathtaking; there’s no danger that anyone in the audience will be dozing off.
And unlike most circuses, Fiq! has a DJ – and a good one too: it’s not easy to match live scratching to the complex acrobatic routines, so props to DJ Dino. Along with the rapping it all contributes to the street-performance B-boy-plus feel.
Groupe Acrobatique de Tanger was set up in 2003 by Sanae El Kamouni. Her idea was to work with acrobats from Tangier and produce something new, something contemporary that would speak to audiences across the board with accessible shows that preserve and promote one of the great traditions of Moroccan popular culture,. She invited European theatre makers to come to Tangiers to create contemporary productions, exponents of boundary-crossing and physical theatre like Aurélien Bory from Compagnie 111 in Toulouse (he’s done two shows with the Groupe) and the Swiss pair Zimmermann & de Perrot (Dimitri de Perrot and Martin Zimmermann).
The combination of traditional and contemporary creation is now being continued with Maroussia Diaz Verbèke, a rope acrobat, stage director and circus specialist who now terms her staging of circus arts ‘circography’. She originally directed Fiq! back in 2020, with Sanae El Kamouni assisting.
The show also mines the visual universe of contemporary artist, photographer and filmmaker Hassan Hajjaj. He’s been called “the Andy Warhol of Marrakesh” for a signature style that combines “elements of high fashion with trashy pop culture”, and he created the stage designs and costumes for Fiq! – a mix of explosive pop and kitsch with stylings from traditional culture. It’s visually exciting, clever and good fun – not unlike Fiq! itself.
“This is superb stuff, the right tone, the right length” said one reviewer. We’d second that; when we saw Fiq! in the UK a year ago, it had the audience on their feet shouting for more at the end.
As well as the two Red Theater performances, the Fiq! team are doing two workshops for The Arts Center’s Off the Stage programme. One is on Moroccan Acrobatics (24 April), the other on Street Dance (25 April). The workshops are free and open to all, but will fill up quickly – so move fast if you want to request for a place …
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